In the previous topic I was talking about VPN and TOR browser, and someone mentioned privacy VS anonymity. What's the actual difference between them?

  • 7
    If you are standing outside my house and peering in my windows, you're violating my privacy, but not my anonymity. If you're looking at a naked stranger, they have anonymity but no privacy.
    – MCW
    Nov 3, 2016 at 11:17
  • 3
    I think your first question is good and clear, but the second part is very broad.
    – Anders
    Nov 3, 2016 at 14:00

3 Answers 3


Say you use a proxy to visit a site.

Privacy: security of content

With the proxy, you will be anonymous to the site you're visiting. That is, it will look like the proxy is requesting the page, not you. The site will still know your content, just not who it's delivered to.

Anonimity: security of identity

Assume you use HTTPS and the proxy or ISP is not maliciously stripping encryption. Then the content of you connection will be private. But the proxy or ISP knows your IP address and that of the site you're visiting. To the proxy or ISP, your connection is private but not anonymous.

For TOR and VPN, the ISP can still match the time and size of packets to make good guesses about the site you're visiting.

So about the technologies you mention;


  • private to proxy (if trusted and site uses HTTPS)
  • website cant see you (if not sending identifiable info)
  • ISP monitors you


  • same as proxy but more private (HTTPS built in)
  • website cant see you (if not sending identifiable info)
  • ISP cant see your browsing/data (just knows that you use VPN)


  • same as VPN, semi-anonymous to everyone except the entry node.
  • private to everyone except you and the site
  • assuming your PC is not leaking info (it probably is)
  • ISP cant see your browsing/data (just knows that you use TOR)
  • please, tell about ISP matter too for each case.
    – T.Todua
    Nov 3, 2016 at 16:13
  • i've updated my answer
    – J.A.K.
    Nov 3, 2016 at 19:40
  • I wanted to edit your answer, like this: pastebin.com/raw/iy10VNyA (am i correct?)
    – T.Todua
    Nov 3, 2016 at 20:53
  • one addition, can you tell me, what you mean in assuming your PC is not leaking info (it probably is) , viruses, spyware or ... ? thanks.
    – T.Todua
    Jun 27, 2018 at 11:21
  • Even maximizing a page gives away a few bits of information that make you unique. And looking at the pervasive capacities of some secret services, they are probably corellating data going in and out of TOR.
    – J.A.K.
    Jun 27, 2018 at 21:00

Actually, VPN is more for things like secrecy or authenticity than privacy, but let's try and sort this out.

When using VPN, you want that the contents of your communication are encrypted (kept secret), it's integrity is protected (nobody can change it by for example rewriting or reordering parts), information communicated is authentic (both parties can be sure who the other party is, and that they actually sent the messages as received), etc. VPN provides quite a few of these security features.

One purpose may be to protect your privacy. It is about private data, things you don't want to share with others. Privacy is usually meant in the context of sensitive personal data like for instance place of living or religion, but I think in the broader sense it is about anything you only want to share with a select audience. It's about protecting your private data and making sure that when others do get hold of it, they are authorized and there are rules for processing of such data. For example in the EU, very strict rules apply to how companies may process their customers' data, there needs to be a purpose, they can only use data for the purposes that the user authorized them for, users must be able to get their data deleted, etc.

Anonimity is about finding out who you are, identifying you (or not being able to).

If you use a VPN, that provides protection against people eavesdroping or performing active attacks on the communication channel you are using (the internet, basically). This may help protect your privacy against people inbetween, but if you visit a website over a VPN and provide your personal details, obviously that is then not protected (by the VPN itself). The website will know the endpoint you are connecting from, and while they may not be able to identify you personally, it is not impossible for others like law enforcement by examining machines (VPN endpoints or proxy servers) inbetween. About the same applies for a proxy, with even less guarantees even for the channel.

When using an anonymizing network like Tor, smart cryptography and architecture (onion routing) helps you stay unidentifiable. While it has its own caveats, the idea is that not even by controlling one or several intermediate nodes can one find out which client computer traffic originates from. This makes it at least very difficult even for parties like law enforcement to find you. The purpose is not to protect your private data but to hide who you are.

As for your question of what an ISP can and cannot see: it depends on which ISP you mean. :) Your own ISP can see that you are communicating to a VPN server, or a proxy server, or an entry node for Tor. They obviously can see what communication originates from you, but not necessarily the contents, if it's encrypted. The ISP of a server you are communicating with (the target node) can see traffic is coming from either the network or host you connected to via VPN, or from your proxy server, or a Tor endpoint. Again, the difference between Tor and others is that for parties with adequate resources (country-level actors) it is possible and relatively easy to find the originating node in case of a VPN or a proxy, because the purpose is to protect the communication, not the endpoints. In case of Tor, that is close to impossible (with notable attacks seen previously that tricked clients into disclosing information about themselves, but that's a different topic).


In the context of Web-Browsing, like Web-Browser, privacy and anonymity are basically the very same thing. So when you use "Private Browsing", the remote website doesn't know that it's you because you don't send your usual cookies (anonymity) and other PC users can't see your history (privacy).

  • There are still plenty of identifying factors with incognito mode, the most obvious of which is ip address. Nov 3, 2016 at 17:50

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